by: Jacob Noteboom
I’ve always been a fan of streamer fishing, but I’ve usually only done it on lakes or very small streams. But recently I made the leap and tried my hand at swinging big water. I had gotten some advice from everyone at the shop on what kind of water to fish and how to fish it, but getting out there for the first time and going about it by myself was intimidating. I had swung sculpins on the coast earlier in the summer and had some success, but not enough to be truly confident in my abilities. That changed the first time I swung on the Deschutes.
It was your average mid September day in Warm Springs. My friend and I were finishing one hell of a day of scouting a small tributary to the middle Deschutes that was surrounded by harsh terrain. We had put some miles under our feet and decided we wanted to finish the day with some easy roadside fishing. The caddis were abundant and it soon became apparent that the trout were too. My friend had chosen to fish a large back eddy with a small nymph rig, so I had decided to wade downstream about 300 yards where there was a good amount of fast riffly water. Water that I felt looked perfect for swinging. Armed with a 5wt, commando head and a sink tip to match, I began to pull some line out and cover some water.
I began fishing the inside of seams, throwing only about 3 pulls of my running line behind my head. This water didn’t seem to hold any fish so I simply waded out further, fishing calmer surfaced, equally fast water. I threw an estimated 30-40 yard overhead cast and my head landed fairly straight, which was uncommon for me, a beginner at casting heads. My line came tight as my Sculpzilla hastily made its way toward the bank, as if it were fleeing for cover. When it comes to swinging for trout, one thing was apparent, make your fly look scared and make it haul ass. I threw a couple twitches in my swing, making the fly look injured with the aid of a loop knot. The results were instantaneous. My rod was instantly doubled over, and the 19” redband that hunted the fly down was immediately out of the water. The fish came out of the water six more times and made a hell of a run before reaching my hand. A true textbook redband battle.
My confidence in my technique was lifted from there on out. I shook hands with the hen, got a quick measurement, and sent her back home. I stepped my way downstream about 20 yards and made the same length cast and retrieved it the same way, which resulted in another hookup. I was ecstatic; the tactic I was so intimidated by was giving me better, faster results than any other new approach I had tried. Amazingly this fish was larger than my first, taping at 20 inches. By far my biggest two redbands I had ever landed.
The sun set behind the canyon and I knew I had a limited amount of time to fish. I stepped down to what would be the place of my last cast. I let the commando head load the rod and sent it over the water, probably with too much force. Tragedy struck, I had let out all of my running line at once, causing a bird’s nest above my first rod guide. I tried to fix the knots as fast as possibly, knowing my fly was dangling downstream. I kept praying that nothing would eat the sculpin before I loosened the knot. As soon as the thought crossed my mind, my rod doubled over.
Fear quickly ensued and I mistakenly reeled the bird’s nest of shooting line back down to my reel. Somehow, a loop made its way off the spool and wrapped into the frame of the reel. I thought for sure that there was no way I was going to land this fish. I could hear his tail trashing at the surface downstream about 40 yards, but was too busy frantically taking the spool off my reel, a task made easy thanks to the design of my Redington Behemoth. Miraculously, I freed the knot and landed the fish. No doubt I was moments away from my leader stretching and breaking. I was so overwhelmed with the relief of landing the fish that it had taken me a second to realize the size and mass of the brute-buck I had in my hands. The fish was immaculate, with shoulders the likes of which I had never seen on a redband. I couldn’t begin to grasp that I had just landed a 21” redband.
Some people solely chase fish of this size, yet I had stumbled upon three of them in less than two hours, and in just one day of swinging sculpins. If you ever have any doubt in your mind when it comes to your skill level and trying a new tactic, give it a couple casts, you never know when you may stumble upon a hungry pod of trophies.